Alaska Aviation Museum Hall of Fame
2018 Explorer & Pathfinder Award
Videos produced by Rob Stapleton
2018 Aviation Entrepreneur Award
Videos produced by Rob Stapleton
2018 Lifetime Achievement Award
Videos produced by Rob Stapleton
Sam O. White
2017 Explorer & Pathfinder Award
Sam O. White, a pioneer in early Alaska aviation, became Alaska’s first flying game warden. Born in Maine in 1891, White served in the military in World War I, and heard fantastic tales of Alaska from fellow soldiers. He headed north in 1922 at the dawn of Alaska aviation, even though he wasn’t thinking of airplanes at that time. He landed in Ft. Yukon to become a game enforcement officer for the federal Alaska Game Commission in 1927, but decided there had to be a better way to patrol a vast territory than being on foot or with a dog team.
With his own money, White bought an airplane and learned to fly from Noel and Ralph Wien, then used the plane to patrol his territory, making him the first flying game warden in Alaska, probably in the world. White gained a reputation for bringing understanding of game conservation policies and laws, all while treating Alaskans fairly and with respect. In 1941 Sam White quit as a game warden and became chief pilot for Wien Airlines. In all of his years of Alaska flying, chronicled in Jim Rearden’s book, “Sam O. White, Alaskan,” White never injured a single passenger. Sam O. White officially retired from flying in the early 1960s.
Holger “Jorgy” Jorgensen
2017 Lifetime Achievement Award
Holger “Jorgy” Jorgensen first started flying in Nome with Frank Whaley in 1943 in a 40-HP Taylorcraft. He soloed in a J5 when he was 17 years old in Nome.” Jorgy flew as co-pilot for only a year at Wien Airlines before passing up three other pilots to earn advancement to captain, making him the first Alaska Native pilot to become a captain for a scheduled airline. He helped open the North Slope to economic development in the late 1950s, flying support for the Distant Early Warning systems and, later, in support of oil exploration.
Born and brought up in the Norton Sound area, this Alaska Native pilot carved a lifetime of achievements out of every opportunity with a sly smile, quick wit, and unmatched acumen for flying. saw and flew the Arctic from one end to the other during the golden era of aviation, becoming known for exacting navigation with the use of instruments and an intuition made him a natural for flying in Alaska and all over the world. Failing eyesight ended Jorgy’s career in 1994.
J. Vic Brown
2017 Aviation Entrepreneur Award
Vic Brown, Jr. was born in Fairbanks in 1923, and took his first airplane ride with Ben Eielsen at age 3. By 1929, the Brown family moved to Anchorage and started J. Vic Brown & Sons Jewelers. Aviation grabbed Brown’s attention early, and he started flying lessons at age 15. With just half a dozen flying hours, he was drafted by the US Army to serve in World War II. He qualified for flight training and came to fly a full slate of aircraft, from P-40 pursuit planes to bombers. After the war, Brown returned to Anchorage and focused on his jewelry business.
But flying was never far out of the window, and a chance encounter with Clyde Lewis of the Civil Air Patrol led Brown to join the civilian Air Force auxiliary organization. He rose through the ranks to become a squadron commander and was instrumental in acquiring aircraft and improved facilities from which the volunteer pilots could fly service flights and search and rescue missions. He personally received the CAP Air Search & Rescue Award in 1962 and 1963, helped fly mercy missions during the 1964 earthquake, eventually stepping down from the organization in 1975.
Dick & Lavelle Betz
2017 Lifetime Achievement Award
Dick & Lavelle Betz first arrived in Alaska in 1946, and Dick soon after accepted a position with the Civil Aeronautics Administration, moving the family to Skwentna. For decades, Dick & Lavelle provided hunting and wilderness guide services out of Skwenta, being well known for their expertise and hospitality. Both are long time pilots, with Dick earning his license in 1948 and Lavelle earning hers in 1960. Mr. and Mrs. Betz are indeed two of the pioneers of rural bush pilots who provided a lifetime of transportation to and from remote communities in the State of Alaska.
2016 Aviation Entrepreneur Award
Born on the Yukon River above Kaltag in 1930, Harold Esmailka has truly lived up to the title “Bush Pilot.” Through the span of his life Harold has worked as a fisherman, wolf hunter, trapper, miner, heavy mechanic, store owner and a pilot. Harold has started many flying services, including Harold’s Air Service, which served 63 villages with a fleet of 28 aircraft. From Ruby, during the days when Harold began operations with a Super Cub to the final days of Tanana Air Service, Harold has been the picture of aviation in Alaska.
Stephen E. Mills
2016 Explorer & Pathfinder Award
Steve Mills first came to Alaska in 1932 in search of adventure and the prospect of fortune.
A talented aviator, he formed Star Air Service out of Merrill Field with partners Jack Waterworth and Charles Ruttan, starting with only a single Fleet biplane which they shipped aboard the S.S. Yukon. Initially a flight school, two of their clients were the first two women pilots licensed in Alaska, Mary Barrows & Irene Irvine. Star Air Service merged with McGee Airways in 1935, forming the foundation for what would become Alaska Airlines.
2015 Aviation Entrepreneur Award
Oren Hudson learned to fly while still in high school, first soloing in 1937. He was a Civilian Pilot Trainer, where he trained hundreds of young pilots as part of the War Training Service. In 1948 Hudson opened a flying service out of Merrill Field, using a new Aeronca Sedan he purchased that year. He moved to Iliamna after bidding on a mail contract there, and continued delivering mail, flying charters and flying scheduled services for over fifty years from Iliamna and Merrill Field.
2015 Lifetime Achievement Award
George Pappas was only 18 when he earned his A&E license in 1947. He came to Alaska soon after, going to work for Herb Mensing and Jack Peck on Merrill Field. In 1959, George acquired the old Reeve hangar at Merrill Field, where he started Aircraft Rebuilders in partnership with Ben Werner. Pappas is widely regarded as an artist with sheet metal, having repaired countless aircraft during his sixty-one years in Alaska. For this, he is known as the “Wizard of Sheet Metal”.
2015 Explorer & Pathfinder Award
Frank Dorbandt was a colorful character, famous in his own time for his daring flights into dangerous weather. He first came to Alaska in 1928, accepting a position as pilot with the Anchorage Air Transport Company flying alongside Russel Merrill. Amongst his achievements are forming Pacific International Airways, Ptarmigan Airways, flying volcanic surveys with Father Bernard Hubbard and participating in the ice-bound Nanuk cargo ship rescue mission. Dorbandt was instrumental in making Anchorage the center of commercial aviation in Alaska.
2014 Aviation Entrepreneur Award
Jack Peck was born in 1915 in Exeter, California. In the 1930s Peck partners with Wyman Rice to form Peck and Rice Airways, primarily flying out of Anchorage and Bethel. In 1947 he signed on as chief pilot for Al Jones Flying Service. He also served as chief pilot for Alaska Airlines in the 1950s. He then started and operated Alaska Aeronautical Industries (AAI) until the 1970s, when he was appointed to Anchorage International Airport Manager by Governor Egan. Peck had a sterling reputation as an accomplished airman and as a careful, dedicated pilot.
F. Atlee Dodge
2014 Lifetime Achievement Award
F. Atlee Dodge was born in 1922 in Lovingston, Virginia. In 1941 he enlisted in the Army Air Corps, serving as flight engineer, crew chief and gunner on B-24 bombers. Following his military career, he worked as an aircraft mechanic for various companies in Washington. He moved his family to Alaska in 1957 to work for Pacific Northern Air. In the 1960s he started F. Atlee Dodge Aircraft Services, gaining a reputation as “Mr. Super Cub” for his many inventive aircraft modifications. He was a brilliant engineer, inventor, innovator, pilot and businessman.
2014 Explorer & Pathfinder Award
Bill English was born in 1923 in Coldfoot, Alaska. A pioneer of his time, Bill English was the first Alaska Native commercial pilot, first Native to earn an airline transport rating and first Native to be designated as an FAA pilot examiner. He flew for Wien Airlines for 37 years, transitioning from pioneer bush pilot to modern day jet pilot. He continued to contribute to his community, serving on various community boards and co-founding the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics.
2013 Lifetime Achievement Award
Rex Bishopp started his aviation career right after college, working for his uncle Jim Ricklefs, owner of Rick Helicopters in San Francisco. In the 1950s, Rex and his uncle would transport helicopters to Alaska in the summer, working out of Merrill Field. In the fall, they would truck the helicopters back to California for winter agricultural work.
In the 1960s Alaska Airlines sold their helicopter branch to Jim Ricklefs, and the company was renamed Alaska Helicopters. Rex and his wife Ruth bought the company in 1967, and moved to Anchorage to run the growing business. In 1978, Alaska Helicopters joined forces with Columbia Helicopters of Portland, Oregon. The expanded company moved into a new, large facility at the Anchorage International Airport in 1981, which allowed it to expand its services.
Rex was a founding member of the Alaska Aviation Safety Foundation, and was instrumental in creating the Alaska Air Carriers Association in 1966. Rex continues to give back to the aviation community by donating time to the Alaska Aviation Museum.
* This information was retrieved from Rex Bishopp’s Alaska Legislative citation, issued in 2013.
Dottie and Jim Magoffin
2013 Explorer & Pathfinder Award
Dottie and Jim Magoffin met in 1946 while they both worked for the Air Corp at Maxwell Field in Alabama. They married and immediately headed north to Alaska, where Jim began working for the Fairbanks Exploration Company as a mining engineer. They bought their first airplane, a Taylorcraft BC-12D, beginning their decades long commitment to creating an aviation empire in Alaska. They founded Interior Airways, and in 1950 opened a flying school out of Weeks Field. While Jim had begun his flying career in 1934, Dottie started hers in 1955, earning her commercial license in 1957.
In the 1970s, they expanded their operations and changed their name to Alaska International Air, opening headquarters in London and Johannesburg. Later, they renamed their company MarkAir to eliminate confusion with Alaska Airlines. The Magoffins donated two aircraft to the museum, a 1944 Noordurn Norseman and a 1943 Grumman Super Widgeon.
* This information was retrieved from the Magoffin’s Alaska Legislative citation, issued in 2013.
2013 Aviation Entrepreneur Award
Cliff Everts began his flying career when he was fifteen, financing his flight hours by delivering newspapers. He soloed within 6 months flying a 1939 Taylorcraft. When the war began in 1941, Cliff joined the Civilian Pilot Training Program. In 1942, at age 21, he left New York to accept a position with Alaska Star Airlines flying in support of war time efforts.
In 1945, he began a 35-year career with Wien Airlines during his he accumulated 30,000 flight hours. After retiring in 1980, Cliff created Everts Air Fuel. He created many ventures during this time, dabbling with restaurants, gold mines, and other various businesses.
Cliff demonstrated his frontier spirit and was instrumental in supporting individuals and communities throughout the state, as well as playing a key role in the continued development of the aviation industry in Alaska.
* This information was retrieved from Cliff Evert’s Alaska Legislative citation, issued in 2013.
Wilfred & Eva Ryan
2012 Aviation Entrepreneur Award
Lifelong Alaskans, Wilfred was born in Unalakleet and Eva in Shaktoolik. Wilfred served as a captain in the Alaska Territorial Guard and Eva as a Bureau of Indian Affairs teacher. At age 23, Wilfred started flight training in Fairbanks. He acquired his pilot’s license in 1950 and worked as a station manager for Alaska Airlines in Unalakleet. Upon purchasing a Taylorcraft plane, Wilfred began flying charters between Unalakleet and Kaltag. Unalakleet Air Taxi was founded by the Ryans in 1953, and in the 1960s the company began handling USPS mail delivery. As the airplanes were added, the company grew and service expanded throughout the Norton Sound. When Wilfred Sr. passed away in 1977, his son Wilfred Jr., known as “Boyuk”, took over management of the company. The company continued to grow, becoming Ryan Air in 1979. Today, the company employs over 100 people in an all-cargo operation utilizing 18 aircraft serving over 70 villages in bush Alaska.
* This information was retrieved from the Ryan’s Alaska Legislative citation, issued in 2012.
2012 Lifetime Achievement Award
Lowell Thomas Jr. is known as an author, film producer, lecturer, public official, adventurer and bush pilot. He flying career began when he joined the Army Air Corps during WWII, where he flew B-25 Mitchell Bombers. With Alaska statehood imminent, Thomas flew his family to Alaska to film a documentary on young families living in the wild frontier.
Lowell served two terms in the Alaska State Senate from 1967-1974, credited with passage of legislation establishing Chugach State Park. Thomas also served under Governor Jay Hammond as Alaska’s fifth lieutenant governor from 1974-1978.
After his political career, Thomas began work shuttling climbing parties on and off Denali in his Helio Courier. He purchased Talkeetna Air Taxi in 1981. Over the years, his passengers including Charles Lindebergh, Brad Washburn, and Walter Cronkite. He donated his Helio Courier to the Alaska Aviation Museum in 2010.
* This information was retrieved from Lowell Thomas Jr.’s Alaska Legislative citation, issued in 2012.
2012 Explorer & Pathfinder Award
A.A. Bennett was born in Oregon in 1888. He first came to Alaska in the mid-1920s, where he and Joe Crosson went to work for the Fairbanks Airplane Company (FAC), which was partially owned by aviation entrepreneur James Rodebaugh. Later that year, both Rodebaugh and Bennett pulled out of FAC and began their own airline, the Bennett-Rodebaugh Company.
By 1929, the Bennett-Rodebaugh Company was one of two major aviation businesses in Alaska, with operations in Nome and Fairbanks. Bennett and his pilots flew miners, preachers, farmers, lawyers, judges and road commission engineers. The company served Alaskans from Kivalina to Copper Center and from Eagle to the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. In 1929, the Bennett-Rodebaugh Company was sold to Carl Ben Eielson, who at that time owned Alaskan Airways.
* This information was retrieved from A.A. Bennett’s Alaska Legislative citation, issued in 2012.
Rita and Bobby Sholton
2011 Aviation Entrepreneur Award
Rita and Bobby Sholton, along with their partner Morrie Carlson, established Alaska’s first all cargo charter plane in 1956 – Northern Air Cargo. The Sholton’s became sole owners of NAC in 1981, and in 1982 received FAA-certified approval to begin scheduled service. By 1990, NAC was supporting more than 100 Alaskan communities with daily, charter and flag stop flights. Bobby Sholton passed away in 1982, and the company underwent a major change with Rita taking over operations. Under Rita’s supervision, NAC grew into the state’s senior and largest all-cargo airline. In addition to Alaska, they also provided service to Russia, Canada and the continental United States.
In 2006, NAC celebrated its 50th anniversary, and in looking towards the future, sought out new owners for the airline. NAC, now under Saltchuck Resources owner, continues to provide Alaska communities with cargo services, employing hundreds of Alaskans and contributing to the economic welfare of the state. NAC and Rita Sholton have continued to support Alaska aviation with their generous and continuous support of the Alaska Aviation Museum.
* This information was retrieved from the Sholton’s Alaska Legislative citation, issued in 2011.
2011 Explorer & Pathfinder Award
Harold Gillam was born in 1903 in Illinois. He first came to Alaska in 1927 to work in the construction industry in Fairbanks. While working on runways in the region, he fell in love with airplanes and decided he would become a pilot. He left Fairbanks in 1928 to purchase an airplane and learn to fly. When he returned to Fairbanks he borrowed a Stearman biplane and joined the search for Carl Ben Eielson, despite only having 40 hours of flight time.
Gillam’s daring and skill, especially flying in extreme weather, earned him the reputation of legendary competence. Gillam provided scheduled air service in the Cordova and Copper Center region for several years before moving his operation to Fairbanks in 1935, where he established Gillam Airways.
His reputation for indestructibility came to an end on January 5, 1943, when he crash-landed a Lockheed Electra on a mountainside near Ketchikan. All aboard the aircraft survived the initial crash. Five days after the accident, Gillam left the passengers in an attempt to find help. Thirty-three days after the accident, the remaining passengers were rescued, and Gillam’s body was eventually found. He had apparently died of exposure while trying to hike out for help.
2011 Lifetime Achievement Award
Ed Rasmuson is a third generation Alaskan whose roots go back to 1901 when his grandparents came to Alaska to serve as missionaries with the Swedish Covenant Church in Yakutat. From a young age, he was involved in the family banking business, National Bank of Alaska (NBA), working his way up from assistant cashier to chairman of the board. In 2001, NBA was sold to Wells Fargo Bank. He also chairs the Rasmuson Foundation, which focuses on sustainable giving that promotes a better life for Alaskans throughout the state.
Ed started flying at age 16, and received his license at age 17. When he was a boy visiting the Museum of Flight in Seattle, he noticed that many historic Alaskan planes were now being displayed in Seattle. He vowed at that time to do his part to help preserve Alaska’s aviation heritage. The Rasmuson family has been involved with the Alaska Aviation Museum shortly after its creation in 1986. They donated personal and corporate wealth to assist in the development and growth of the Museum and Ed donated considerable personal time. Several major aircraft have been donated to the Museum by the Rasmusons, and their contributions have ensured that the Museum has survived and grown in their mission to preserve Alaska’s aviation history.
* This information was retrieved from Ed Rasmuson’s Alaska Legislative citation, issued in 2011.
Sheldon B. “Shell” Simmons
2010 Aviation Pioneer Award
“Shell” Simmons was born in in Clearwater County, Idaho, in 1908. He first came to Alaska in 1925, working as an electrician at the Alaska-Juneau Mine. Simmons attended flight school in Yakima, WA, returning to Alaska in 1929.
A daring pilot, Simmons was famous for rescues and mercy missions. He was the first commercial pilot to fly year-round in Southeast Alaska. Simmons established Alaska Air Transport in 1935, merging with Marine Airways in 1939 to form Alaska Coastal Airlines. In 1962, Alaska Coastal merged with Ellis Airlines to form the largest scheduled airline exclusively operating amphibian aircraft. In 1967, they merged with Alaska Airlines, bringing Simmons and partners Bob Ellis and Ben Benecke to the Alaska Airlines board of directors.
* This information was retrieved from the Simmon’s Alaska Legislative citation, issued in 2010.
Jack & Ruth Jeffords
2009 Aviation Pioneer Award
Jack Jefford was born in 1910 in Broken Bow, Nebraska while Ruth Jefford was born in Des Moines, Iowa in 1914. Jack learned to fly in 1931, first moving to Alaska and flying for Mirow Air Service in 1937. He joined the CAA in 1940 as Chief Pilot. He and Ruth were married in 1970, forming Valley Air Transport together in 1971. Jack passed away in 1979. Ruth learned to fly in 1937, moving to Alaska in 1941. She co-founded the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra in 1946. Her last solo flight was in 1996, and she passed away in 2007.
2008 Aviation Pioneer Award
Art Woodley was born in 1906 in Elmira, New York. He learned to fly with the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1927, and made his first trip to Alaska in 1928. He formed Woodley Airways in 1932, and incorporated as Pacific Northern Airlines (PNA) in 1945. PNA headquarters moved to Seattle in 1948, and by 1956 was the first airline in Alaska to carry more than 100,000 passengers in a single year. PNA merged with Western Airlines in 1967, and Woodley retired from the business in 1971.
2007 Aviation Pioneer Award
Russel Merrill was born in 1894 in Des Moines, Iowa. Six months short of graduation from Cornell University Merrill joined the U.S. Navy, earning his gold wings in 1918. He flew with Roy Davis to Alaska in 1925, completing the first civilian flight over the Gulf of Alaska. In the month of August Merrill set many other “firsts”; he is the first to fly an aircraft into Anchorage, Seldovia and Kodiak Island. He was hired as the first pilot of Anchorage Air Transport in 1926, becoming chief pilot in 1927. In September 1929 Merrill departed Anchorage on a flight towards Bethel, and never returned. Merrill Field was named in his honor.
Merl “Mudhole” Smith
2006 Aviation Pioneer Award
Merle “Mudhole” Smith was born in 1908 in Kansas. He joined the Inman Brothers Flying Circus in 1933, setting the record for most circus passengers at more than 26,000. Smith came to Cordova, Alaska in 1937, earning his nickname after a minor incident leaves his plane nosed over in a mud hole. He is asked to lead Cordova Air Service in 1939 after his friend Kirkpatrick is killed in an accident. By 1942 he worked for Morrison-Knudson and Harold Gilliam, flying cargo and mail along several routes throughout Alaska. After the war, Smith returned to Cordova Air Service and continued to build it up. Cordova Air Service merged with Christensen Flying Service in 1952, and merged again with Alaska Airlines in 1968. Smith served as director and VP of Alaska Airlines until 1973.
2005 Aviation Pioneer Award
Bob Reeve was born March 27, 1902. He joined the Army in 1917, and earned his commercial license in 1926. In 1929 he mastered mountain flying in South America. Reeves stowed away on an Alaskan bound steamship in 1932, where he started building Reeve Aleutian Airways. Becomes known as the “Glacier Pilot” after making more than 2000 glacier landings. He flew as a civilian pilot in support of the war with a contract with CAA. After the war, Reeve bought a DC-3 and converts it into a civilian aircraft. Reeve Aleutian Airways is incorporated in 1947.
2004 Aviation Pioneer Award
Robert Edmund Ellis was born in 1903 in St. Albans, Vermont. He learned to fly as a Naval Reservist, and became a commercial pilot in 1929 working briefly for Alaska Washington Airways. He flew as navigator on the first non-stop flight between Seattle and Juneau. While he established Ellis Air Transport in 1936, he was recalled to active duty during WWII, serving in Alaska. After the war, he returned to building Ellis Air, primarily using the Grumman Goose. From 1946-1948 he served as the Mayor of Ketchikan, serving in the Territorial Senate from 1955 through 1959. In 1962 Ellis Air merged with Alaska Coastal Airlines, and merged again with Alaska Airlines in 1968.
Carl Ben Eielson
2003 Aviation Pioneer Award
Carl Ben Eielson was born in 1897 in Hatton, North Dakota. Eielson learned to fly with the U.S. Army Signal Corps in 1918, moving to Fairbanks in 1922. He had accepted a highschool teaching position, but went to work as a pilot for the Farthest North Aviation Company. In 1924 he was awarded the first air mail postal contract in Alaska to deliver mail between Fairbanks and McGrath. Eielson flew for the Wilkins expedition in 1926, becoming the first to fly over the polar cap in 1928. He returned to Alaska in 1929, and crashed while attempting a rescue in Siberia for the cargo ship “Nanuk”.
2002 Aviation Pioneer Award
Joe Crosson was born June 29, 1903 in Minneapolis, Kansas. His first solo flight was in 1923, and he arrived in Fairbanks in 1926. Crosson flew as part of the Wilkins polar expedition, was the first to fly over the southern polar continent and was the first to make a landing on Mt. McKinley. He helped Wiley Post complete his first solo flight around the world in 1933, and flew to Barrow to retrieve Post’s and Will Rogers bodies in 1935.
2001 Aviation Pioneer Award
Ray Peterson was born August 10th, 1912 in York, Nebraska. He took his first plane ride in 1928, and earned his pilot’s license in 1930. Arriving in Seward, Alaska in 1934 with little more than $300, he began his long career as a pilot within four days of arrival. He formed Bethel Airways in 1935, with the company going out of business after both of its aircraft crashed. He founded Ray Peterson’s Flying Service in 1937, merging with several other air carriers to form Northern Consolidated Airlines in 1947. NCA merges with Wien Alaska Airlines in 1968, and Ray Peterson become CEO of Wien in 1969.
2000 Aviation Pioneer Award
From Cook, Minnesota, Wien attended Dunwoody Institute to take up mechanics. Ray Miller taught him to fly in 1921 after which he went barnstorming with Clarence Hinck’s Federated Flyers aerial circus. Wien saw an opportunity to fly in Alaska and migrated there with his brothers in 1927 and established Wien Alaska Airlines. Wien set many Alaska firsts: He was the first to fly from Anchorage to Fairbanks, the first to fly across the Arctic Circle and first to make a roundtrip flight between North America and Asia. Wien Airlines grew to provide flights to most of the world, and at its end in 1985 could claim title to second oldest airline in the world.